So what is this science literacy thing anyway? #scio14

by David Ng

O.K. Just in the preliminary stages of thinking a bit more about how I might want to moderate my session at the upcoming Science Online Together 2014 conference #scio14. For now, I just wanted to make sure I reprint my pitch (from here), so that I have it on popperfont.


“Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about “science literacy. A small part of this is because I’m trying to write a book on this very topic: a bigger part is because I’ve discovered that thinking about such things turns out to be far easier than writing about such things.

Anyway, what I (and many others) have surmised is that the concept of science literacy is very much a moving target. What you think it is, what the general public assumes it to be, and what academics make of it, tends to vary significantly. Benchmarks will differ enormously if you query a scientist, a farmer, an artist, a teacher, or even that family member of yours that can’t help but tune out whenever we science types open our mouths.

Part of the problem is that science literacy always sounds uncomfortably vague, like something you’re pretty sure you’re familiar with, but then on closer examination, realize that maybe you’re not. It’s a bit like asking someone whether they know what a computer is: they’ll always say yes, but ask yourself – do they really? It also doesn’t help that the concept itself is always in a state of relentless change – which has a lot to do with information ecosystems, with media challenges, with shifting science culture, and also (unfortunately) because of the subversive activities from the likes of L.P.W.L.T.B.L.’s (loud people who like to be loud), P.W.S.P.O.M.I.’s (people with strong political or monetary interests), and of course, the D.C.D.s (dangerously clueless douchebags).

And as if this doesn’t already sound a little hopeless, it turns out that plenty of research is suggesting that our biology is not very good at thinking scientifically anyway! So how about a session that digs a little deeper into all of this science literacy stuff? And also what our community tends to think about it? It seems to me something that could be quite interesting, possibly a bit eye opening for some, therapeutic for others, obviously interactive and in the best case scenario, useful overall. Useful, because ultimately, it’s not a bad way to piece together a big picture, and illustrate the nuances involved (it is a moving target afterall), all with a mind to help us understand why and how we might want to communicate science.”

More on this later, but for now – game on!